Kobe Bryant, Wesley Matthews, and Brandon Jennings are among the professional basketball players who have experienced an Achilles tendon rupture, or tear.
While Achilles tendon injuries can happen to anyone, athletes are particularly prone. Why is this—and what is your risk?
Running and jumping can trigger Achilles tendon injuries
The Achilles tendon withstands stress from daily activity; running and jumping increase this burden.1 Running, for example, can add up to 12.5 times a person’s body weight to the tendon.2
Achilles tendon injuries are common in athletes playing tennis, basketball, and soccer,3 among other sports involving running, jumping, and pivoting movements.
There are several ways an Achilles tendon injury can occur. A sudden stress can cause the Achilles tendon to rupture, as it did for Bryant, Matthews, and Jennings. This acute rupture explains why both Jennings and Bryant fell to the floor instantly during a game when the injury occurred.
The Achilles tendon is also subject to overuse injury over time. This type of damage can occur when the tendon does not have time to repair itself from small, continuous stresses. This susceptibility to overuse is probably why about 10% of runners experience Achilles tendinitis,4 or tendon inflammation.
Professional or avid athletes are not alone in experiencing Achilles tendon injuries. They can also occur in recreational athletes—especially weekend warriors (middle-aged people who occasionally engage in intense sports activity). With infrequent use, the Achilles tendon could be stiff or tight; abrupt and vigorous activity could overstress the tendon, putting the weekend warrior at risk for injury.5
Other causes of Achilles-related injuries
In addition to the sport-related movements that may cause an Achilles tendon injury, there are several factors that may put you at risk:
- Increased age
People over 30 years old are more prone to this injury. Kobe Bryant, for example, was 35 years old when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. As you age, the tendon receives a reduced blood supply, which can put you at risk of injury. The tendon also experiences wear and tear, thereby weakening over time.
- Changes to your training schedule
Uphill running, excessive training, or amplifying your training schedule may put you at risk for an Achilles tendon injury. So can a change in playing surface.
- Over pronation
This inward slant of the feet when walking or running, due to flat feet, may also lead to an Achilles tendon injury.
- Tight or weak calf muscles
Your muscles could endure extra stress if they are not flexible or warmed up prior to intense activity.
An Achilles tendon injury, like a rupture, can be devastating. It can be season-ending for an athlete—as it was for Bryant, Jennings, and Matthews—and takes a few months to nearly a year for a full recovery.
Depending on the severity of your injury, sometimes recovery only takes a few weeks. That said, it is important to treat your injury early to prevent further damage to the tendon and surrounding tissue.6
- Mazzone, MF, McCue, T. Common Conditions of the Achilles Tendon. American Family Physician. 2002; 65: 1805-1810.
- Achilles tendinosis, non-insertional. Orthopaedics One The Orthopaedic Knowledge Network Website. Updated July 9, 2012. Accessed April 11, 2016.
- Maffulli N, Sharma P, and Luscombe K. Achilles tendinopathy: aetiology and management. J R Soc Med. Oct 2004; 97(10): 472–476. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.97.10.472
- James SL, Bates BT, Osternig LR. Injuries to runners. Am J Sports Med. 1978;6:40–50. And Brukner P. Sports medicine. Pain in the Achilles region. Aust Fam Physician. 1997;26:463–5.
- What is the Achilles tendon? Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicines Website. Accessed april 11, 2016.
- Pierce B. Running Injuries. In: Run Less Run Faster Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program. New York; 2007: 147-160.